Life after lockdown in Wuhan
After 76 days in lockdown, the central Chinese city of Wuhan -- where the Covid-19 pandemic began -- is no longer sealed off from the world. This month authorities allowed residents to leave the city for the first time since Jan 23 when its 11 million residents were confined to contain the quickly spreading virus.
As a growing number of countries around the world -- Thailand included -- have since put their own strict measures in place, all eyes will be on Wuhan to see what happens next.
The Chinese government has been both criticised and praised for its characteristically top-down approach to the management of the outbreak. As well as locking down Wuhan and the wider Hubei province, China's national response to the virus has included publicly monitoring citizens, aggressive testing, strict social distancing, and a system of punishments and rewards to encourage citizens to follow the rules.
The rate of new Covid-19 cases in Wuhan per day has now reportedly dwindled to zero, a marked change from only a few months ago when a daily increase of fewer than 2,000 cases was a significant milestone. Wuhan's leaders therefore want to cautiously restore the city's social and commercial life while avoiding a second wave of the virus.
Measures to ensure the latter include the continued closure of schools, monitoring people's temperatures when they enter buildings and residential compounds, as well as strongly encouraging mask use. Residents are allowed out of their homes for a few hours at a time, with many prioritising time in the natural environment after so long indoors.
Residents in major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing are also enjoying increased freedom of movement. While they may still have to show a green health code on an app that signifies their virus-free status to enter banks, hospitals and some other buildings, such restrictions no longer apply for department stores and subways.
In Beijing, senior high school students are scheduled to return to school on April 27, hopefully leaving enough time to prepare for their college entrance exams in July.
But as Wuhan reopens its doors, and other parts of the country return to work and school, residents and analysts worry that leaders have prioritised restarting the economy before China is definitively free of Covid-19.
While it is widely agreed that the situation in China has improved immensely, there are claims -- all of which are rebutted by the government -- that the number of new cases reported by officials is not accurate, and that Wuhan residents who display Covid-19 symptoms are no longer being tested.
While it remains to be seen how effective Wuhan's lockdown has been in the long term, the city's residents must be relishing life out of full-time isolation, giving other countries a glimpse of the new normal that awaits us once the worst of the pandemic has passed.
Suwatchai Songwanich is an executive vice-president with Bangkok Bank. For more columns in this series please visit www.bangkokbank.com